Writing a query letter to agents can be challenging for all sorts of reasons – and so can the bio section! What exactly are you supposed to include in a query letter bio? What’s relevant to say, and what isn’t? How much should you say about yourself? Should you try to be quirky and funny, or not?
In this post I’m going to cover what to include in your query letter bio, what to avoid, and also some general tips on the bio itself.
Before we start, it’s helpful to keep the following in mind: The purpose of your query letter is to entice agents to read your book. The bio can show them why you were the person to write it.
Note that I say can. You don’t need to include a bio at all. Its main purpose is to show who you are in relation to your writing life. If you have nothing relevant to say, then you don’t need to include a bio. You can simply pitch your book and thank the agent for their consideration.
Things to include
When considering what to include in a query letter bio, relevance is key. You want to include what’s most relevant to your book and your future writing career.
- Education. If you have a degree or master’s degree, you can mention this (although you don’t have to). If it’s somehow linked to your genre or subject matter (you studied psychology and have written a psychological thriller), even better, because this shows you have specific knowledge about what you’re writing about. It can also show that there’s a good marketing angle for you and your book.
- Your profession, if it’s linked to what you’re writing about. Just like education, if your job is linked to your subject matter, go ahead and include it for the same reasons listed above!
- Any previous writing credits. If you’ve been shortlisted or long-listed in any writing competitions, had short stories published in paid markets, or you’ve done professional (paid) writing work before (even if it’s not fiction-related), mention these things! They can show the agent you know how to write and have potential.
- Self-publishing success. I’m going to stress the word success here, because this is most relevant if you’ve managed to sell thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of copies, had thousands of positive reviews, or built a big fanbase. If you’ve self-published and not done especially well, or you just published on a small scale for family and friends, just don’t mention it.
- Writing organisations you’re part of. If you’ve joined any organisations, like the Crime Writers’ Association or the Romantic Novelists’ Association, mention this! It shows professionalism and that you’re serious about your writing career.
- Relevant interests or hobbies. Have you written a crime novel, and you also love to watch true-crime documentaries? That’s relevant – it’s research!
- Your platform. If you have a massive platform online (a big social media following, a large YouTube channel, etc), definitely mention this! If not, no need to mention it.
- Where you’re from, if this is linked to your novel or you’ve chosen to set the novel there.
- Publishing-related endeavours. For example, if you run a book blog, ran your student newspaper, completed any writing academies or courses with reputable organisations, and so on.
If you don’t have any of these things, don’t worry. Remember that lots of writers query without these things and land an agent just fine. They aren’t requirements, just things you can add, if you have them.
Things to avoid
Caveat: I’m generalising with some of these. Some of these things might be relevant, but it usually depends on your genre, the type of book you’re writing, the tastes of the agent, and so on. Remember: relevance is key. I’ve included some exceptions here in brackets so you can see what I mean.
- Your personal life and family. Telling the agent where you grew up, that you have three children, that you’re married, that you relocated… These things aren’t relevant here, since your query letter is all about enticing the agent to read your book. (If your personal life is in some way definitely linked to your book, you can mention it: you’re a doctor who has written a book set in the medical world, for example, or you played professional hockey and now you’ve written a hockey romance.)
- Random hobbies and interests. The agent doesn’t need to know that you like binge-watching Netflix, drinking wine on the weekends, or baking cakes. (Unless your book is somehow related to those things.)
- Pen names. You’re querying, so you’re at an incredibly early stage. Mentioning pen names can also seem like you’re assuming that you’ll definitely get published with this book. So much of publishing is unpredictable, and this might not happen, unfortunately – so save any discussions about pen names until you land an agent/publisher.
- How you feel about your book. Avoid detailing your own personal backstory and how it led you to writing this book, what it’s based on, or how you felt about writing it. It’s best to leave out your own interpretation of the themes of your novel, too, because this should all shine through in your writing. (Plus, everyone has a different perspective, and we all interpret literature differently.)
- Your writing journey. Don’t talk about how long you’ve been writing, how many drafts you’ve done, if this is your first novel, how much you’ve improved as a writer, or, heaven forbid, how many rejections you’ve had! In a job interview, would you discuss how many interviews you’ve been to where you didn’t get the job, and how hard you’ve been working to get to that point? Probably not. Let your writing speak for itself.
- Writing groups or beta readers. So many writers are part of online or in-person writing groups – and many of us have beta readers or critique partners. It’s just a commonly done thing, so there’s no need to highlight it.
- Relationships with freelance editors. There’s no need to mention if you’ve worked with a freelance editor, or had professional feedback on your book before.
The murky grey areas
Now, all agents are different, so some of them might love it if you mention that you have three cats and love coffee, or if you include a splash of personality, maybe in the form of a joke or light-hearted reference to a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with showing a bit of uniqueness – it’s all about the tone, and maintaining professionalism. Researching the agents you plan on submitting to can also help with this, as it’ll give you a feel for their style and the types of writing and authors they enjoy.
The main thing is not to come off as braggy, too over-eager, or seeming like you’re trying too hard to impress. Sometimes, authors can get really intimidated by the prospect of submitting to agents, and can overdo it when they write their query letter. If you treat this like a cover letter for a job – and try to remember the agent is just a person, certainly not a monolith or supreme being! – you can’t go wrong.
More tips for your query letter bio
- Keep it short and sweet. Agents are busy people, so query letters in general shouldn’t be too long – I usually recommend about 250–300 words in total. This means your bio should be short, and to the point – the agent isn’t reading your autobiography, after all. 😉
- Make sure you write your bio in first-person. I’ve come across query letters that are written in third-person – but that style is more suited to an author bio you’d find in the back of a published book, or on the publisher’s website. In a query letter, you’re addressing the agent directly, so you don’t want to talk about yourself in third-person.
- Put the bio at the end. In a query letter, the bio tends to come at the end, after you’ve introduced your book and made your pitch to the literary agent.
I hope this post helped you with your bio! If you liked this post, subscribe to my email newsletter to receive writing and publishing advice directly to your inbox. You can also check out some of my other posts on querying agents below:
- How long do literary agents take to respond?
- Do you need a literary agent to get published?
- Querying agents: The revise and resubmit (R&R)
- The waiting game: How to survive querying or submission
- Submitting to literary agents: 10 tips
Header photo by Photo by Vlada Karpovich.